By Morgan Dinsdale
Last season I had the great fortune to visit one of the most magical places on earth, the Fairy Meadows (Bill Putnam) ski hut in the Selkirk backcountry surrounding Golden, BC. This incredible hut, created and maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada, is the place my skier mind always daydreamed of – epic pillow lines, couloirs for the climbing, glacier traverses, peak after untouched peak, and all out your front door. And the snow! Let’s just say on this magical week I barely saw the sky.
Fairy Meadows was my first hut trip and all things considered I think I did a pretty decent job packing and planning. But I won’t lie, I could really have used a bit of advice on what to bring and why. When you’re loading your life into a helicopter that’s going to drop you off in the middle of the mountains for a week, what makes the cut into your bag really (really) matters.
There are the obvious things to pack – skis, touring skins, beacons … don’t forget your ski boots. These are pretty easy to figure out on your own but there are a few items I really wish, in hindsight, I had remembered or thought of to pack.
So without further ado here’s my list of the top 10 items you can’t go without on a backcountry hut trip. You know I’ll be packing them in for my RMU team trip to the San Juans this spring!
1. Volle Straps & Zip Ties
I don’t think there is anything a Volle strap or Zip Tie cannot fix! I’ve always got several of these in my pack. Binding breaks, Zip Tie. Skins no longer stick to your skis, Volle Straps. Need to fix a broken backpack strap, fasten a leg splint, or whip up a makeshift headband? Done. With just a few you can create an emergency shelter with tarps and poles or branches. Other ways I’ve personally used these badboys; as a temporary booster strap when a ski boot strap blows out, as a backcountry tourniquet, twist the strap and wrap it along the bridge of your boot for a makeshift crampon, assemble a rescue sled with skis, poles and a backpack frame. Extra tip: Wrap Duct Tape around a water bottle or something that lives in your pack – this stuff always comes in handy!
2. Solar-Powered Battery Recharger
You know what’s great on a hut trip – working speakers and fully charged iPods, cameras and radios. Solar-powered portable panels and chargers are ideas for those who are out and about in the mountains and need some extra juice for GPS units, cell phones and other portable devices. This one’s best as a team planned bring-along. One unit can function as a charger for your entire hut group, bringing down everyone’s pack weight for longer hauls into the wilderness. However, it’s good to remember that when it storms you may not have sunshine for several days so a few small backups, like batteries for beacons, are a must too.
3. Yurt Booties
Few things are better than a pair of down booties or Crocs or slippers after a day sending it in the backcountry. Trust me – you’ll be thanking yourself every night when your tired soles are smiling next to the fire. They’ll also appreciate it on your sprint to the privy in the middle of the night.
4. Extra food
As a Nutritionist this one is engrained in my DNA; extra food is a must! Prepare for pine martins, they will find a way into your food no matter how well you think you’ve stored it all. Remember lots of comfort foods like tea and chocolate, a nice way to warm up after a cold day out exploring. Group planning when it comes to food is also an excellent idea. Our group at Fairy Meadows divided into groups of 3, with each group responsible for one after ski snack, a dinner, and the next morning’s breakfast. You pack in what your group needs and once your rotation is over you can just kick back and enjoy delicious eats all week.
Why not enjoy the night away with a few rounds of Poker or Euchre or even Go Fish! You can only spend so many hours pouring over maps planning tomorrow’s adventure. They don’t take up much space and 52 cards go quite nicely with a cold beer at the end of the day.
6. Kegs & Whiskey for hot toddies
Speaking of beer, if you’re lucky enough to stay at a hut with a heli drop take kegs. They save everyone on money and it’s really nice to have a beer supply that can last a weeklong trip. Otherwise whiskey with peppermint tea or honey is a pretty nice way to curl up with a few stories from your day.
7. Ear plugs and Headphones
People snore! Seriously, people can really, really snore! Make sure you pack decent earplugs and headphones. On my Fairy Meadows trip I was mega-grateful for my combo of earplugs with over-the-ear headphones because although one of my buddies may be the best in the backcountry, I wouldn’t have slept a wink without my noise-cancellers.
8. Extra layers
Don’t be the person wearing the same socks day in, day out. It’s a hut trip, not an epic, so bring a change of base layers and a few pairs of extra socks. You’ll never regret bringing that extra puffy or that cotton t-shirt for sleeping in. Just a few creature comforts go a long way!
9. Gear up for your adventure
It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, get the beta before you get there. Make sure you have a sense of what’s likely to be in store for you and the group so you’ll have the right gear to support your adventure in the backcountry. Know if you’re going to need glacier equipment, crampons for couloirs or ropes. Just as important, know what not to pack. You don’t want to be schlepping heavy gear you’re never going to use.
10. Ski touring buddies
Having partners that you trust, that inspire you and keep you safe – is everything! It’s great to make new friends too, but heading into a hut knowing no one is a recipe for disaster, so make sure you’ve got a few of your favorite backcountry buddies with you. If nothing else they will guarantee that a smile will grace your face all trip. You’ll come out closer, these trips are a place where partnership and friendship only deepens.
Cover Photo: S: Dane Weister | P: John Howland